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Argentina eyes expanded farm trade with China as harvest nears

Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, April 23 (Reuters) - Argentina is pushing to increase agricultural trade with commodities-hungry China, as farmers on the country's Pampas grains belt prepare for what is expected to be an bumper soybean harvest over the weeks ahead.

China is the world's biggest international buyer of soybeans, which are then ground into meal to feed the world's biggest pig herd as middle class Chinese increasingly demand pork and other meat as part of a shift in diet away from rice.

"We believe Argentina still has a big chance to advance agro-industrial trade and increase its role as a reliable supplier of food to China," Argentina agriculture secretary Luis Etchevehere said in a statement issued from China, where he is leading a delegation of farm industry representatives.

Argentina has also been pushing to export higher-margin domestically processed soy meal to China, though it has faced resistance from Beijing.

"There is room to increase our trade relations with China," the statement from Etchevehere said.

Argentina's soy crop is expected to rebound strongly this year after the 2018 crop was battered by drought. This harvest will be key for the recession-hit nation as it looks to bolster government coffers and wipe out its primary fiscal deficit.

Pampas farmers are expected to bring in 55.9 million tonnes of soy this season, or 48 percent more than the previous year, according to the statement.

Soy planting in Argentina starts in mid-October and November, with harvesting between March and May.

The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange expects Argentine farmers to harvest 55 million tonnes of soy this season. The Rosario grains exchange forecasts a 56-million-tonne crop.

Argentine exports to China last year reached $3.48 billion, more than 86 percent of which were from the agricultural sector. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)